FOR parents who are in the unenviable position of home-schooling their children because of Covid-19 restrictions, help is on hand in the form of fun science videos.
Science, you might think, is the preserve of boffins in lab coats and is definitely not fun. But the teaching of this subject has moved on.
Proof of this is the accessible approach to science at the former Lifetime Lab, now rebranded to the Old Cork Waterworks, the visitor centre located in the old Victorian waterworks along the River Lee, restored by Cork City Council.
The centre is dedicated to environmental issues, science and education and Cork’s industrial heritage.
Una Leader, Cork City Council’s science teacher at the old Cork Waterworks, has developed a series of ten videos under the banner of ‘Science with Una’. They make for ideal material for children confined to home.
The videos are posted each week through the Cork City Council Facebook page.
With a background in environmental science and hydro geology, Una says she came to teaching relatively late in life. This Cork woman, a science graduate of NUI Galway, trained as a second level teacher and worked for two years at Colaiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire.
She had experience of talking to school groups through the Geological Survey of Ireland and realised that what she liked most was talking to people “and telling stories” about science.
Working at the Old Cork Waterworks, Una is used to speaking to classes of children visiting the centre. A pilot programme for practical science and making science accessible for teachers took place at the centre under the aegis of the Primary Curriculum Support Service.
“I worked with fantastic primary school teachers,” says Una. “Before Covid, kids would come into the Lifetime Lab and we’d give them a really positive experience of hands-on science engagement. Teachers would see what hands-on science looks like.”
When schools closed, Una had to adapt and adjust.
“Kids are still interested. It was about giving them something that would surprise them and give them a sense of wonder. That’s what science is about.
“The videos we’re doing are very short, about three to four minutes long. They take a science-linked idea that is easy to do,” she said.
One of the videos is titled ‘Rainbow on a Plate’. All that is required for this experiment is a packet of skittles, a plate and some water.
“What you can do with this is almost art. You put a little bit of water on a flat plate and put skittles around the edge. You leave them for a while. The skittles will start dissolving in the water. The sugar in the skittles starts to spread out from where there is a lot of sugar to where there is very little and it carries the colour from the skittles in an amazing rainbow effect in the centre of the plate. It’s all about dissolving and changing concentrations.”
Una aims to instil a sense of wonder in the children while also giving them “that little bit of a grain of science. The key to each video is that they’re unusual and interesting. It’s fun and there’s some science in it. The thing about primary school children is that you can’t teach them the encyclopaedia of science but you can make them go ‘oh’, expressing wonder at how something happens.”
Another video is called ‘Diving Bell for Lego Man’ which shows how trapped air keeps things dry under water. And there’s a video entitled ‘Amazing Arrows’ which illustrates the scientific idea of refraction.
As Una points out, the children can carry out the practical experiments at home using everyday household items, having watched them on video.
It’s about making sense of the world while inspiring a certain element of awe. For children who are interested in art, there’s a beautiful video called ‘Water Flowers’.
“You cut out little flower shapes in water, making a six-petal flower. You fold it up and float it on water. The water gets absorbed into the paper. The flower will open. It’s beautiful and it’s about how some things absorb water and other things don’t.”
Una is developing programmes for when schools reopen in Cork. Zoom-facilitated talks and workshops will include one on marine explorers by marine biologist, Shazia Waheed. There will be an innovative electricity workshop called ‘House of Circuits’ facilitated by Una.
“And, as soon as public health guidance allows, we look forward to engaging directly again with children, families and schools.”
Science education has changed hugely from the days of the class swots using bunsen burners in laboratories.
“What’s coming through in schools is that science is about asking questions and finding answers, using evidence to find those answers. As students get older, it’s the discipline of finding out through experiments,” she says.
“Good science learning involves wonder. Kids love to observe what’s going on around them,” says Una.
For more see Cork City Council's Facebook page.